April was still young, the trees were still naked, yet many blackthorns were already full of leaves. There was a crowd outside of the Chapel of St. Procopius. Everyone was well dressed, in a festive mood, rising on tiptoes to see. There was a large stage built in the area in front of the chapel. The curtain moves, loud and long-lasting applause starts. A man comes onto the stage with a stick, but with a good posture for an eighty-five-year-old man. He silences the crowd with a gesture that shows his theatre experience.
“Your Grace, Dear Locals and Non-residents, Dear People, listen to what I am going to tell you,” says the man with a resonant voice. “I hope you´ll forgive us for coming here at Easter time to perform a small play about the Passion of the Christ for you.” Oh yes, it is him – Jan Šourek, a long-time official of Zásada, the owner of the U Jana Inn, a businessman with glass and jewellery, as well as linen goods. Yes, it´s him, who build this beautiful chapel in 1749. He brought the text of the Easter play from remote Bavaria and translated it himself into the Czech language. Every year, he humbly and repentantly assumed the role of Judas Iscariot. Truth be told, he has less energy now, but still managed to perform the whole Passion play. Nobody would think about taking the role of “the traitor” away from him, not even at such an old age.
There was nobody who would ever say a bad thing about Josef Šourek. It was as if he brought prosperity and well-being to Zásada. When he became an official, the life of the village started to improve. He was one of the first to set out into the world for business. Truth be told, there had already been some business with glass before he came, but on a much smaller scale. At that time, it had been two hundred years since, in 1558, Johann Schürer founded some glassworks here. It wasn´t technically located in Zásada, but in Syřišťov - a neighbouring village. While there was wood, local peasants were hired as operators and slowly started to think about glass as a good product. And so, they started doing business. They imported and bought glass, decorated it and then sold it at markets – local at first, then more distant. When the hut closed down, the glass business still had deep roots in Zásada, and so they started buying from other glass producers and continued the business. At the time of Šourek, Zásada had already become a centre of glass business and jewellery that could compare to Jablonec. People from Zásada exported goods around the whole of Europe - to Germany, Austria, Italy, France, Belgium, Spain and Russia, and even Egypt and Palestine. Then they could buy exotic and luxurious goods for the money they received. They imported these goods and sold them at home. They were getting richer. In Šourek´s Inn, there were still lots of people, and you could hear all kinds of languages. They used to say that the end of the world would not come until all the people in Zásada got home.
Let´s move ahead some hundred years forward. We are still at Zásada, in front of the Chapel of St. Procopius. Easter is in full swing, only there is no Passion play anymore. Though the tradition lasted more than a hundred years, the last time that this play was performed was in 1859. The chapel door is open; people gather for mass. Wait a minute, are these local villagers? Girls and women adorned with golden jewellery, gentlemen stroll and greet each other with fleeting titles – it is – dear Mr. Manufacturer or Factory Owner. Look at that! Yet again, we can witness the well-being of local people. However, the origin is different this time. After the Napoleonic Wars and the bankruptcy of the Austrian Empire, the money lost 80% of its value in a few days. Local business with glass and jewellery hit rock-bottom. What seemed eternal – simply ended. Jablonec almost built a monopoly and Zásada could not compete. Well, they said, we cannot sell, but we can produce. They started production that then took over the area of the Jizera Mountains mid-century - the production of glass beads. More precisely, chopped and cut beads - small spherical or cylindrical bodies with a central hole. They started on a smaller scale, just in their houses. They needed material – glass rods that were produced in glass factories. Whoever wonders how such a rod is produced, would be surprised.
Hard work is needed, plus good breath and fast legs. And a little luck. In the glassworks, the glass is melted in fireclay and ceramic pans. A glassmaker takes the glass from the pan and blows a flask using blow-pipe. Then an assistant takes the pipe and runs down a long corridor, that is built for this purpose. When he reaches the end of the corridor (sometimes called “tažírna” or “běhárna”), the glass is pulled up to sixty metres in the shape of a glass rod. It should be mentioned that the success rate was about half – every second run was good. This long rod was then chopped into 80 cm sticks, connected to bundles - and went to the cutters. It was necessary to cut them into small pieces, that were called “bůstky”. They were cut with an ordinary knife. Then, they travelled to another cottage, where they were cut to the required, preferably round, shape. Then the first improvement appeared – “klemprda”, or “cojk”. It was a simple chopping tool equipped with a sandstone grinding wheel.
The improvement continued and cutting, as well as grinding, was more effective. However, there was still the Venetian competition. Italian beads were much better. How do those Murano glassmakers do that, wondered people from Zásada. Then, they started the construction of the railway. They needed to modify the terrain and cut some tunnels. There was no one else better to help with this than Italian construction workers called “barabové”. While they were here from Murano, Italy, local Bohemian cutters and grinders learned the tricks of their glassmaking from them. As is the custom in Bohemia, Zásada´s people thought it through. They started to cut the beads twice, or three times, and that is how beautiful shiny “dvoukrátky” and “tříkrátky” were born. In the mid-sixties, at the time of the boom, they were sold by wagons. They had excellent quality and variety. The profits were rising. Such a cutter could earn up to 16 gold pieces per week, which was almost twice as much as a master bricklayer got and three times as much as a clerk could earn.
We have to bear in mind while watching posh Zásada women and men that it wasn´t long afterwards that Austria defeated France. Before that, France was one of the main competitors of jewellery, produced in the Jizera Mountains. The demand magically multiplied. In a year, everyone left their jobs and started to work with glass. At the beginning of the year, six cutters owned “klemprda”, and at Christmas there were one hundred and sixty. In several houses, there were up to six pieces of “cojk”, so the furniture had to be moved to the attic to make space for production. They all did well and were successful. Cutters and grinders did well, and also the girls who did the threading. Such a girl could earn up to twelve gold pieces a week, so she could buy a new coat in only two weeks. Zásada was yet again the Eldorado of glass. Glass fever started to spread around the whole mountain area. As is often the case, people acted as if they had all the money in the world. Nobody was saving any money; they were spending everything. Ladislav Stroupežnický had a lot of examples all over the country when writing “Naši furianti – Our Swaggerers”.
And so, it happened. The year 1873 came together with the world economic crisis. The stock exchanges fell, businesses were bankrupted…and what about jewellery? Oh, come on, we have other problems. Poverty returned so fast. Black bread that locals used to eat as little children stopped being fed to pigs and returned to tables. And you could smell the local typical dish called “Kyselo”, that had been almost forgotten by the rich.
One could assume that people had learned. No! Not at all. When the crises ended after ten years, Zasada´s residents returned to their old habits very quickly. The situation with Italian workers repeated as well. They came to break stone and again spilled the secrets of their own countrymen. Local glassmakers thrived again, improving their craft! They were earning and spending a lot. There was a dance every week in a local pub. Local people were known for their musicality, and they liked good bands. They wanted the best. At the beginning of 1888, they ordered a military band from far-away Hradec Králové. Zásada was again a Paradise. Local glassmakers did very well, and they could buy their own houses, however simple. This was not the case of neighbouring German glassmakers. What do you think happened next? At the end of the eighties, fashion changed and beads were no longer in high demand - here we go, “kyselo” and bread on the table again!
And for the third time, we stand in front of the Chapel of St. Procopius. Cars are driving a few metres from us, Easter or not. How did Zásada do in the 2Oth century? Have they survived until now? Well, yes, they have. After the First World War and the establishment of Czechoslovakia, the demand for Czechoslovakian jewellery was high all around the world. It contributed at eleven percent of the total state exports. Zásada is a paradise again. No need to mention that they are spending again. You know people never change. Then at the end of the twenties, a crisis and collapse. However, it seems that Zásada´s beads can survive anything. After the Second World War, there is another boom, but very short due to “Red January”. However, even the new regime needs some prestige and the profitability of Czech jewellery. And so, the beads continue to be produced in Zásada. However, small workshops don’t suit the new era. So, they start building on a greenfield on the edge of Zásada. It is as if an ocean liner got stuck here. It “picked up some passengers” in 1964. Just a few steps from Zásada Chapel and you are at the local factory. Preciosa Ornela has been producing there for more than twenty years. Producing what? Oh, you know very well what.